No Proof Necessary
“Are you sure there is no alcohol in this?” I asked in disbelief while sipping a delicious habanero-spiced “margherita,” at The Macintosh, one of four non-alcoholic beverages (“n/a”) offered on the menu. Flavorful and inventive spirit-free cocktails like this one shake up misconceptions that booze is needed to make a good drink. In a drinking town that boasts some of the best bars and cocktail programs in the country, I set out to explore what drinking with a clear head tastes like in the Holy City.
There are many reasons one might choose to pass up an alcoholic drink. Pregnancy, being underage, health consciousness, spiritual beliefs and recovery, to name a few. Recently, more food and beverage professionals are coming out publicly seeking help for alcohol and drug addiction. Ben’s Friends, a support group for restaurant industry people in Charleston, is an organization raising awareness of this issue and helping in the community. In solidarity with awareness, more restaurants like Husk and McCrady’s Tavern, among others, have been incorporating spirit-free cocktails into their menus to create more enticing options and inclusivity for all. Their perspective: You do not have to have alcohol to enjoy a good drink.
Macintosh bartender, Megan Deschaine says she is happy in “providing a service to a community that has been ignored.” Mixing up locally sourced and inspired beverages made from seasonal ingredients and house-made syrups, her n/a cocktails, which were added to the menu in July, have been selling very well, she says. Meredith Hughes, assistant general manager at The Macintosh adds, “we wanted something for everyone.” There is a mocktail to include the awkward 20-year-old out with family, and a table of older women enjoying their summery “Alotta Coladas,” Hughes says.
Like Deschaine, Kevin King, bar manager at McCrady’s Tavern says, “Spirit-free beverages are a light, refreshing and interesting alternative.” King has seen a rise in people ordering virgin drinks. He explains they taste good and work well with food by not overshadow-ing flavors with booze. Like a sommelier, he designed a progression of n/a cocktail pairings for McCrady’s Tasting Room to accompany certain dishes. “We want to complement the dishes, but not overtake them,” King says. When designing his beverage pairings, which are also available at the bar, he says he considers visuals, smells, textures and viscosity on the tongue.
King has seen adventurous customers order combinations of spirits, wine and n/a drinks to enhance their culinary experience. “People get too drunk to even enjoy the cocktails,” he adds, “the first cocktail is the best, because you are more aware.”
Ending my mindful pub crawl at The Bar at Husk, bar guest Ryan, asks me what I am drinking. While sipping a bourbon cocktail he says, “the worst part of alcoholic drinks is tasting the alcohol.” Head bartender Justin Simko asks what I would like to try next. Ryan eagerly chimes in “get the Cardinal Punch,” he says. “I’m living vicariously through you.”
Jet Set is one of four spirit-free adaptations featured on Husk’s menu. Jet Set is described as “not too sweet, light, refreshing, Mojitoesque.” Husk gets its pineapple drinking vinegar locally from Jam Beverage Co., a family-owned company producing hand-crafted drinking vinegars, made with all-natural ingredients. The pineapple vinegar shrub “gives it more body.” Serves 1
¾ ounce fresh lime juice
¾ ounce Jam pineapple drinking vinegar
5 fresh mint leaves
Fill rocks glass with ice; set aside. In a metal cocktail shaker, pour lime juice and Jam. Add the mint leaves and lightly muddle. Fill the shaker with ice and shake vigorously. Strain over ice in a rocks glass. Top glass with club soda; garnish with a large mint sprig.
Recipe by Justin Simko, Bartender, The Bar at Husk
Roses in Red
Roses in Red is part of a dessert progression. King says his non-alcoholic drinks usually include three to four ingredients. He likes to keep his drinks simple and well-balanced, showcasing fresh ingredients and their natural sweetness. He tops all mocktails with soda water “to make it bloom.” Serves 1
1½ ounces Rose Noir tea
¾ ounce agave syrup
4 Bing cherries, pitted
¾ ounce fresh lime juice
¼ ounce strawberry vinegar
1 small pinch of sea salt
2 ounces club soda
Prepare ahead: Steep tea for 5 minutes, then let cool. Mix a two-to-one ratio of agave to hot water. Let cool. Fill rocks glass with ice; set aside. In a metal cocktail shaker, muddle the cherries. Add all ingredients except the club soda. Add ice to the shaker; shake well. Using a fine tea strainer, double-strain mocktail into rocks glass. Top with club soda.
Recipe from Kevin King, Bar Manager, Mc-Crady’s Tavern
The inspiration for this drink came while eating a margherita pizza. The spirited version of this drink won the national competition for Exotic Tequila at “Tales of the Cocktail’ in New Orleans. Despite the use of alcohol, Deschaine reiterates this drink can stand alone. Made with “ local bounty and local ingredients, it doesn’t need tequila to be delicious.” Serves 1
Bulls Bay salt
Lowland Farms holy basil
Large local heirloom tomato, quartered
Habanero pepper, sliced into rings, divided
½ ounce fresh lime juice
¾ ounce simple syrup
1½ ounces water Fee Brothers celery bitters
On a plate, mix salt and pepper. Wipe a rocks glass with lime wedge and rim glass with salt and pepper mixture. Fill a rocks glass with ice; set aside. In a metal cocktail shaker, muddle basil leaves, ¼ tomato and 1 ring of habanero. Add remaining ingredients and top with ice. Shake well and strain into rocks glass; garnish with a basil.
Recipe by Megan Deschaine, Bar Manager, The Macintosh